For the entire month of November it’s Radon Action Month—a time to remind everyone how important it is to get your home tested.

First, what is radon?

Radon comes from uranium in the ground. When it breaks down it produces a radioactive gas called radon. You can’t see it, smell it or taste it but it’s there, and it’s always been there.

The problem is when radon gets trapped inside a house or a building—that’s when it can accumulate and become dangerous. It can come in through cracks and openings in your foundation, your windows, loose pipe-fittings, floor drains or the sump in the basement—even a home’s water could contain radon.

Breathing in radon over an extended period of time is a serious risk to your health because these tiny radioactive particles can get into your lungs, and when they release energy they can damage lung cells. That’s when you start to run into problems.

Every year, more than 3,000 Canadians die from lung cancer caused by radon. Not too many people know this but radon is actually the leading cause of lung cancer in non-smokers—the second leading cause of lung cancer overall. And if you’re a smoker and you live in a house with elevated radon levels (above the current guideline of 200 Bq/m3) your chances of developing lung cancer is one in three. I don’t like those odds.

In some cases it can take years before you start to see the damaging effects of radon. That’s why everybody must get their home tested, no exception. (That includes 24 Sussex Drive!) It’s the only way to know if your house has a radon problem.

Studies on radon show that different regions across the country have different radon levels, but what they also tell us is that there is no way to predict if a house has a radon problem or not—one house might have normal levels while the house next door has levels through the roof. I’ve seen it happen. The only way to know for sure is to test for it.

All homes have some radon in them, but the amount of radon they accumulate depends on a few different factors. The first one is soil.

Not only do uranium levels vary across the country, but also the way radon flows through different types of soils varies too. For example, it can be easier for this radioactive gas to move through sand than clay.

The construction of the house and its foundation play a big role, too. If the foundation has plenty of cracks and openings, it provides more entry points for radon to get in. Things like using exhaust fans, the fireplace and opening windows can affect the pressure inside the house, which can actually pull radon inside.

Right now about 7 per cent of Canadians are living in homes with unsafe radon levels—don’t be one of them! Protect your family and get your home tested. The good news is if you have high radon levels you can fix the problem, and it’s a relatively straightforward fix.

You can purchase a long-term radon test kit (long-term testing provides better readings than short-term testing) but I’d recommend getting a professional home inspector to come in and do the testing for you. Just make sure they’re certified by the Canadian National Radon Proficiency Program (C-NRPP).

Testing can be tricky. For example, radon detectors must be placed a certain distance away from interior walls, exterior walls, below the ceiling and above the ground. Do it the wrong way and you can screw up the results. That’s why you’re better off getting a pro to do it for you.

The best time to test for radon is over the winter because we don’t open our windows and doors as much, which allows for radon levels to build up and provide more accurate readings.

Don’t put it off. We’re going to be spending more time indoors. Make sure the environment inside your home is safe for you and your family. That’s top priority.